Now Reading
What It’s Really Like To Study English Literature At University

What It’s Really Like To Study English Literature At University

My decision to study English Literature at university was easy: I simply adored books!

Glancing through all of the module and discipline choices pre-university felt like the world had crafted the perfect space for me to snuggle inside. I had visions of curling up in gorgeous aesthetic cafes and unleashing mindblowing stories and thought-enriching knowledge; opening up my own, very little inner world. 

Did I ever experience this glorious fiction I had conjured up? Well, yes actually. Studying Literature was one of the best experiences of my life and I genuinely did enjoy my moments of pure bliss. Of course, it wasn’t always as perfect as I’d envisioned. So here are all the things I came to learn as an English student at university:


1. They Really Weren’t Joking When They Said It Would Be A Lot Of Reading

At A-Level, you’ll study maybe 2-3 texts per year. At univeristy? It’s around that per week. You’ll spend the majority of your degree desperately trying to conjure up methods of not drifting off to sleep over a tedious piece, or embarking on a mission to find new reading atmospheres that aren’t your bedroom or library. Non-English students often undermine how time-consuming all that reading is – I often spent 8 hours solid without a single glance up from Richardson’s Clarissa. It’s definitely the reason I now have to wear glasses!

2. People Suddenly Expect You To Know EVERYTHING About The World Of English

Google Books have estimated that there are about 130 million books in existence, but somehow I’m expected to have read them all. Whenever someone mentions a book they’re reading or have read in the past, it’s utter shock horror when I admit it hasn’t made my own list. I know I said I’d read a lot of books for my degree, but not quite that many. 


Failing that, I must be a walking dictionary. “What does [insert strange word here] mean? … Huh? You mean to say you don’t know? … But you’re an ENGLISH student?!”. Of course, and that somehow makes me an encyclopdia for 171,476 words? Sure!

3. That Being Said, Other People’s Poor Grasp On Grammar Becomes A Major Pet Peeve

Would it kill someone to simply learn and utilise the correct use of there/their/they’re? It’s hardly rocket science!


4. You’ll Come Across Unexpected Treasures…

You never looked twice at that piece when you saw it in the bookshop all those years ago. Now you’ve uncovered a new glorious obsession and a secret love for the professor who ingeniously slotted it into your module syllabus. 


5. … And Books That Make You Flinch At The Mere Mention Of Them

If anyone dares to bring up Jonathan Swift’s A Tale Of A Tub, I may actually lose my head! Days and days were spent trying to decipher some relative meaning or logic out of it. Never before have I been so unsuccessful in a literary pursuit. Nor do I care to know what Swift was attempting to get at either.

6. You’ll Become An Expert In The Most Random Subjects

If I wasn’t swotting up on the English Civil War, I was reading books cover to cover on 18th Century Art. Mention Salamanders to me and I’ll be able to narrate every folklore tale and superstition ever told involving such creatures. 


That’s the thing with Literature, you’re not just consuming interesting (or not) stories, you’re simultaneously absorbing all the context that has inspired and influenced said story. From History to Science, Sociology to Politics, Philosophy to Art, you’ve now automatically become the perfect candidate for those random quiz questions that no-one else knows.

And the looks you sometimes receive for knowing these crazy facts: priceless!


7. Writer’s Block Will Be Your Worst Enemy

Your written work needs to be creative, original, ingenius, thought-provoking, insightful, unique, technically accurate, sharp, deep – need I continue? Approaching essays therefore becomes an anxiety-inducing task. What’s worse? Most the time I could never think of ideas or phrases that would remotely fulfill the writing expectations placed on literature essays. Or, too often enough, I couldn’t think of anything at all; like a blank brick wall. Fun. 

See Also


 8. Which Means You’ve Become An Expert At Blagging

The writer was angered by social injustice’, in an English student’s work becomes this: ‘The writer of this novel uses a wide variety of symbolic and metaphorical techniques within the piece to demonstrate his inner frustrations towards the ongoing social injustice that often occured during this particular time period’. I mean, the 8,000 word count won’t be fulfilled with sharp, creative ideas alone, right?

9. Some People Assume You Do Nothing All Day

“To be an English student! I could just read a few of my favourite books, tap out my opinion in an essay and then chill for the rest of the semester.” – Many, MANY non-English students.


News flash: having far less teaching time is not synonymous with having far less work. Some people would be very surprised to find out that what hours we don’t spend in lectures, we more than make up for in independent reading and research! 

10. Although Very Occassionally That Has Been True

Self-discipline is hard! English students don’t get that schedule luxury that lectures and seminars impose. We have no set routine, so a lot of the work is actually mustering up the discipline to get the work done – especially when there’s always something FAR more entertaining on Netflix, which is, you know, merely a click away. 


Unfortunately there have been days where our procrastination demons just got the better of us! Although we will always try to convince ourselves that binging on the 6 hour adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was entirely relevant and beneficial to our degree. I mean, it was adapted from literature!

11. You Begin To Analyse Anything And Everything

Why is it that the label on this water bottle is red? Did the designers do this to make us think of the danger that plastic is causing to the planet?’. All of a sudden, the whole world and everything within it becomes home to hidden meanings and mind-blowing symbolism. 


Studying English Literature was definitely one roller-coaster of a journey! But even after facing sleepless nights, months of stress and even losing my perfect eyesight (partially), I came to love books and literature far more than when I had first started. Are you an English student? What were your experiences of your time at university? Comment below!

Featured image source: